The following analysts are scrutinizing this story:
MATTHEW HOH, matthew_hoh at riseup.net Hoh resigned in protest from his State Department position in Afghanistan in 2009 over the escalation of the Afghan War by the Obama administration; he also served in Iraq with the Marines.
He said today: “This is not the first time Russia has been accused of trying to harm U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. In 2017 and 2018 accusations were that Russia was supplying weapons to the Taliban were loudly repeated by the U.S. press, however, when put on record about such accusations, senior U.S., Afghan and NATO officials admitted there was no evidence to back such claims. In fact, the only confirmation of Russian involvement militarily in Afghanistan was the provision of 10,000 weapons to the Afghan government in 2016 by the Russians.
“This is more a story of the abdication of journalistic standards and critical practice than it really is about the war in Afghanistan. That nearly all corporate-owned media in the U.S. are simply repeating the claims of anonymous officials, claims that are made without any evidence, just demonstrates U.S. corporate media has become a public relations tool of the U.S. government. After corporate media’s willingness to repeat the baseless and unfounded claims, lies really, made by the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump in justifying U.S. war in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and now throughout Africa, it is no surprise they would go along, willingly and enthusiastically, with anonymous statements made without evidence, once again, in order to justify war in the Muslim world, to increase tensions with Russia, and to stoke Pentagon and military industry budgets. It should be noted nearly all the experts quoted in print or appearing on television/radio to speak about these claims are retired generals who are on the boards of military companies or residents of think tanks that receive funding from the U.S. government and/or the military industry.
“This has always been the nature of U.S. war in its imperial form, with false accusations supported by an excited media to create the domestic political support for war, or continued war. This is true of U.S. wars in Vietnam, Central America, the Spanish American War, the acquisition of Hawaii, the Mexican American War, U.S. support for the British Opium Wars, and, for hundreds of years, wars of genocide against the Indigenous people of this land.
“Of course, these dangerous accusations come at a time when peace efforts have reached a point in Afghanistan not seen since the early 1990s. Such an attempt to stop efforts to end a war with a continued value to the U.S. military industry, and elements within the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, should be expected.”
SCOTT HORTON, via ed at scotthorton.org, @scotthortonshow Horton is author of the book Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan and editorial director of Antiwar.com. He said of the recent reports: “The NYT, WSJ and Washington Post stories all rely only on anonymous officials’ claims. These sources did not even describe the nature of the supposed intelligence to the reporters, much less prove their case. The journalists who wrote the articles have all cited each other as ‘confirming’ their stories on Twitter, when they all are still only repeating the same hearsay. (In a later follow-up, the Times added a few details, but still no reason to believe.)
“The timing is of course very suspicious due to impending negotiations with the Taliban and current negotiations with Russia, on U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and nuclear arms.
“After the intelligence agencies lied directly to the American people about Iraq’s unconventional weapons, Libya’s impending genocide, Syria’s ‘moderate rebel’ terrorists and especially the late-Russiagate hoax, every claim they make should be considered an outright lie until proven otherwise.
“Russia has supported U.S. efforts in Afghanistan since 2001. If they are now trying to give our government an excuse to stay bogged down in that no-win quagmire, then what does that say about our current occupation there in the first place?
“In 2017, the army admitted that there was no evidence for claims by officials to the media, such as CNN, that Russia was supplying weapons to the Taliban. War veteran journalists at Task and Purpose handily debunked those claims as well.
“There is no reason at all to believe the current accusations are any more credible.”
Others critics cited examples of U.S. policy killing or targeting Russians in Syria and in Afghanistan.
MATTHEW HOH, email@example.com Hoh resigned his position as a State Department political officer in Afghanistan in 2009 in protest of the Obama administration’s escalation of the war. Prior to being in Afghanistan, Hoh was a U.S. Marine Corps officer and was in the war in Iraq twice, once with the Marines and once on a State Department team. Since 2010, Hoh has been a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy.
He said today: “The first part of a peace deal for Afghanistan, set to be signed Saturday between the U.S. government and the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar, has a host of uncertainties attached to it, both in terms of the details of the agreement and what the deal between the U.S. and the Taliban means for the Afghan people. What is not uncertain is the immense suffering the Afghan people have endured and that this is a peace process that could have begun years ago.
“Afghanistan has been at war for more than 40 years. For all 40 years, the war in Afghanistan has been funded, supported and participated in by outside nations — in all but seven of those years the U.S. has been involved as one of those outside powers, including supporting Afghan Islamist militants in the year prior to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and for four years after the Soviet Union exited. The suffering of the Afghan people has resulted from a myriad of causes, yet seemingly only those who are either on the payroll of the U.S. government or whose legacy is tied to the U.S. role in Afghanistan will not offer that the largest reason for the suffering of the Afghan people and the continued devastation of Afghanistan has been U.S. war and political policy.
“The war in Afghanistan has been a mirror for the United States for the last 40 years — the dysfunction of the U.S. political system, America’s failed war on drugs, the prioritization of war over all else, and the blowback from ignorant and arrogant decision-making is revealed through the war in Afghanistan as a fundamentally American story. By no means has the U.S. endured the costs that Afghanistan and its people have endured, yet it should be lost on no one that Afghanistan is as much an American story as it is anything else.”
A short documentary, Worth the Price? Joe Biden and the Launch of the Iraq War, was released this morning. Produced by Mark Weisbrot and narrated by Danny Glover, this 19 minute film includes a variety of voices on the launching of the Iraq War, I am grateful to be one of those voices.
If you agree with the film, I would appreciate it if you could share Worth the Price? with your networks as you see fit. Many believe Hillary Clinton did not win the democratic nomination in 2008 and did not win the general election in 2016 due to her support of the Iraq War. Like Clinton, Biden should be held accountable for his continued advocacy for war, and if enough major candidates are held responsible, maybe more candidates will favor peace over war.
The Killing of General Soleimani: Hail Mars! Hail Pluto!
If it is true the United States killed Iranian Quds Forces Commander General Qassam Soleimani in Iraq yesterday, unverified by the Iranians as I write this, then there is no hyperbole or exaggeration too great to encapsulate what may befall tens of millions of families. The equivalent of the killing of General Soleimani would be as if the Iranians assassinated General Richard Clarke, the US four star general in charge of all US special operations, but only if General Clarke had the name recognition of Colin Powell and the competency of Dwight Eisenhower. Those Iranians in government and civil society who want restraint, de-escalation and dialogue will find it hard to argue against retaliation. After more than 20 years of Iran enduring insult after insult, provocation after provocation, and attack after attack, I find it hard to believe there are many Barbara Lees in the Islamic Consultative Assembly.
A young man, better and brighter than those who sent him to Iraq to be in my command in the Marines in 2006, asked last evening:
“So let’s assume Soleimani is responsible for the embassy raid on the 27th. What should the proper response be? I think it would have been a great reason to talk to the Iranians and start from a 0-0 standpoint.”
That is what we are promised each election cycle by the two war parties: thoughtful, wise and judicious leadership – recognize the abyss and don’t step into it.
Imagine if President Trump were to say before Congress and the American people: “I know the danger of where we are, I respect Iran’s grievances and I ask them to respect ours, I am going to Tehran to meet with President Rhouhani. I have seen what Bush and Obama wrought, I will do different.” And what if then he told every member of Congress or the media who criticized him to stand and to offer up what they had sacrificed in the last 20 years. Would not that kind of leadership get him re-elected? Would there ever be a tally of the bodies, minds and souls saved? Yes, a late night fantasy of mine, pushed by the eternal hope of the too many unforgiving ghosts of these wars, but hope seems to be all we have right now.
2000 years ago in Rome a bull would have been slaughtered in the Temple of Mars to placate and appeal to the God of War. This weekend in DC, as well as most assuredly in Tel Aviv, and quite possibly London, the finest wines and liquors will be opened, without a seeming care that the sacrifice required will not be measured in a single animal, but in millions of dead and destroyed humans.
In Rome they worshiped Pluto as the God of the Underworld and of Death. Fittingly, Pluto was also the God of Money and Wealth. In these times it seems neither Mars or Pluto seems sated by the bodily and spiritual forms of the dead. If we pull down Lincoln and Jefferson in DC and hoist Mars and Pluto in their places I doubt Mars and Pluto’s appetites will be met, but as least we would be honoring those who are served.
I just sent out a message to my supporters via Patreon and I wanted to provide an update here on my website as it has been more than a month. I also want to take this opportunity to remind people that if you like the work I do and want to support me you can do so via Patreon.
In the last month I’ve written several essays and had them published in a variety of platforms. I’ve also done a number of tv and radio interviews. My most recent essay, published today in CounterPunch, will hopefully bring more interviews in the next week or two. I will also publish the text of this essay below this message.
Prior to publishing this essay, which is about 2500 words, I had several shorter versions of the essay published in a number of newspapers and websites. I was very happy to have these essays published in The Oklahoman and the Amarillo Globe-News, along with a couple of other Texas newspapers. These essays specifically targeted Senator Jim Inhofe and Representative Mac Thornberry, respectively the chairman and ranking member of their chambers’ armed services committees, in their home state/town newspapers.
Earlier in November, I had an essay on veterans suicide and moral injury published for Veterans Day. This essay led to about a dozen or so radio and tv interviews. I’ll post some of these interviews below.
Much love and peace to you all.
PS. I realize it’s been four years since I updated my photo gallery and I will attempt to update it this month.
Here are examples of some of the interviews I have done in the last month:
I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can…Its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
– Dwight Eisenhower.
For the first time in decades, passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been delayed due to disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. The disagreements at the center of the delay in Congress are, as usual, partisan in nature: funding for the President’s border wall with Mexico, a Space Force the Pentagon doesn’t want, the impeachment hearings, and other domestic political issues. This delay in passage of a reconciled NDAA between the two houses of Congress, however offers an opportunity, because buried within the NDAA are possibilities to repeal the pieces of legislation that have brought mass human, financial and moral consequences to the US, have wrecked entire nations and societies abroad, and have made the United States less safe.
The Best Authorizations the Military-Industrial Complex Can Buy
In both 2001 and 2002, via large majorities, the Congress passed authorizations for war. While not declarations of war, these mandates, each titled an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) provided the legal framework in 2001 for attacks against al-Qaeda and in 2002 for the invasion of Iraq. Since 2001, the first AUMF has far exceeded its original purpose and has been used to justify military strikes and operations in close to twenty countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, often against nations, organizations, and individuals who had nothing to do with 9/11. It was even cited by President Obama, and then President Trump, as the authority to extra-constitutionally execute an American citizen and his teenage children, without trial, by drones and commandos. President Trump, as the 2001 is still operative, can seemingly do what he pleases with the military overseas. With regards to the 2002 AUMF, I think most Americans would find it a shock to know it is still in effect, that the congressional blessing given to the Bush Administration to launch the Iraq War, based on the lies of Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda, has never been revoked.
Within the NDAA, presented as amendments, are calls for the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs to be repealed. The oft stated arguments offered against repeal by politicians and pundits in the service of the war machine refer to the world-wide presence of terror groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS); appeal to the sunk cost of US lives and treasure in the post-9/11 wars; or point to the requirement for the Pentagon’s leadership abroad, somehow claiming that US military, and CIA, presence and activity over the last two decades has brought about stability and peace. It doesn’t take very much to belie such excuses and reasons, simply having paid attention to the news of endless war for the last couple of decades or by speaking to a war veteran will guide most people to an understanding that these wars have not just been failures, but never-ending catastrophes of counter-production and suffering, proving with clear certainty both the old adages of war as hell and as a breeding ground for unintended consequences.
The list of reasons to not repeal these AUMFs are heard in varying degrees from congressional leaders and members on both sides. These reasons are at best specious and are most commonly political myths and tropes that fluctuate around American exceptionalism and the benevolence of war making. The antidote to such falsehoods of war is hard experience and undeniable fact. The listing of all such experience and fact is too great to provide, however, I believe simply outlining the costs and consequences of the actual results of the wars enabled by the AUMFs is enough to cause democrats, republican and independent voters, – men and women who are not on the dole of the weapons industry, unlike nearly all members of Congress – to want to see a repeal of both AUMFs.
What Have the AUMFs Accomplished?
Based on FBI and journalist investigations, al Qaeda’s strength was between 200 and 400 members world-wide in September of 2001. Al Qaeda now has affiliates in every corner of the world, their forces measure in the tens of thousands of fighters, and they control territory in Yemen, Syria and Africa. Per Brett McGurk, the former US envoy for combatting al Qaeda and ISIS, Idlib Province in Syria is the largest single location of al Qaeda fighters ever assembled in the world. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any point since 2001, and, with regards to international terrorism, where there was one international terror group in Afghanistan in 2001, now the Pentagon reports twenty groups, the largest gathering of such groups in the world.
It is important to remember ISIS is the former al Qaeda in Iraq, an organization that came into being due to the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States. While apologists for the United States’ wars and militarized foreign policy will argue this was an unforeseeable and regrettable accident, it seems beyond dispute, as understood through leaked US intelligence documents, comments by American and foreign officials, and multiple journalist and academic reports, that ISIS’ success in Syria and Iraq in the first half of this decade was due to the direct and indirect military, logistic and financial support to ISIS by the US and it allies. This same support occurred for al Qaeda and their associated forces in Syria. At times the US found itself providing air cover for al Qaeda forces in Syria and even air strikes in support of ISIS. Such use of US warplanes resulted in accusations that the US was serving as al Qaeda and ISIS’ Air Forcein Syria. In response US active duty soldiers protested via social media, angered at being on the same side as the people they saw as responsible for 9/11.
While much of the counter-productive results of the AUMFs are correctly described as blowback, the outcome of incompetent and nefariousness US meddling overseas, whether it be through Reagan-era support for Islamic militants in Afghanistan or Obama’s use of “smart power” in Libya, I certainly do not want to take away from the agency of those people who have spent decades fighting against the US Empire and its allies. The 9/11 hijackers, the murderers who give reason for these AUMFs, offered the following three motives for their attack:
1. the US sanctions and bombings of Iraq through the 1990s,
2. the US support for Israel against the Palestinians,
3. the stationing of the US military in Saudi Arabia.
The 9/11 hijackers did not murder thousands of Americans because they hated our freedoms, but because they saw the US as engaging in an ongoing war against Muslim people and lands. Not forgetting the terrible and criminal nature of 9/11, I don’t think it extreme to say the hijackers’ grievances were legitimate, regardless of whether you agree with them.
Rather than executing a response to that act of terror which would directly pursue the perpetrators while ameliorating the conditions that gave rise to the attacks, the US chose a path that inflamed anti-US sentiments and assisted terrorist recruiting by opening wars against Muslims across the world, including in the US. The result should not be surprising: US military,intelligence agencies, journalists and other international organizations continually report the reasons people join such groups is not out of ideology or religious devotion, but out of resistance to invasion and occupation, and in response to the death of family, friends and neighbors by foreign and corrupt government forces. Anywhere from 70-90% of the people who are fighting our soldiers in Africa, Asia and across the Greater Middle East are doing so simply because our soldiers are occupying them or are backing predatory and kleptocratic local government forces.
Often, when I ask those in the US who possess the loudest desire for overseas intervention, occupation and war what they would do if their own home towns and cities were occupied by a foreign army I usually receive a quiet non-reply or an answer so intellectually and morally dissonant that I have to catch my breath. Yet, it is such silence and dissonance that allows for these wars to continue and disallows any consideration that without the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs we may not today have a world-wide network of al Qaeda fighters and, most certainly, we would not have ISIS. The AUMFs, and the wars they have enabled, have worsened terrorism, not defeated it.
What Have the AUMFs Cost?
More than 7,000 US service members have been killed and more than 50,000 wounded in the wars since 9/11. Of the 2.5 million troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan it is estimated as many as 20% are afflicted with PTSD, while 20% more may have traumatic brain injury. Based on US Veterans Administration (VA) data, Afghan and Iraq veterans have rates of suicide 4-10 times higher than their civilian peers, adjusted for age and sex. This translates to almost two Afghan and Iraq veterans dying by suicide each day. Do the math and it is clear more Afghan and Iraq veterans are being lost to suicide than to combat. The cost to the people overseas to whom we have brought these wars is hard to realize. Between one and four million people have been killed, directly and indirectly, while tens of millions have been wounded or psychologically traumatized, and tens of millions more made homeless – the cause of our planet’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
Financially, the cost of these wars is immense: more than $6 trillion dollars. The cost of these wars is just one element of the $1.2 trillion the US government spends annually on wars and war making. Half of each dollar paid in federal income tax goes towards some form or consequence of war. While the results of such spending are not hard to foresee or understand: a cyclical and dependent relationship between the Pentagon, weapons industry and Congress, the creation of a whole new class of worker and wealth distribution is not so understood or noticed, but exists and is especially malignant.
Where the manufacturing, oil, financial and tech centers of the US were once the most affluent regions of the country, for more than a decade now Washington, DC’s counties have composedthe wealthiest section of the United States. In 2016, 4 of the wealthiest 6 counties in the US were Washington, DC suburbs. As discretionary federal spending, aside from that going to defense, intelligence and homeland security agencies, has remained flat or fallen in the last two decades, in relation to inflation and GDP, that household wealth amassed in and around Washington, DC has come primarily from year after year of trillion dollar aggregate spending in support of war making (with the exception of President Obama’s 2009 bank bailout). The sustainment of thiswar wealth class in and around Washington, DC, seems set for permanence as predicted by future congressional spending priorities, while non-war making classes of Americans, such as scientists, educators and environmentalists, will continue to see reduced support from the federal government.
This is a ghastly redistribution of wealth, perhaps unlike any known in modern human history, certainly not in American history. As taxpayers send trillions to Washington. DC, that money flows to the men and women that remotely oversee, manage and staff the wars that kill and destroy millions of lives overseas and at home. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees and civilian contractors servicing the wars take home six figure annual salaries allowing them second homes, luxury cars and plastic surgery, while veterans put guns in their mouths, refugees die in capsized boats and as many as four million nameless souls scream silently in death.
The only additional statistic I have the space to provide, of a vast many which compose that incomprehensible cost of more than $6 trillion spent solely for these wars, is that nearly $1 trillion of the $6 trillion dollars is simply just interest and debt payments. For politicians, whether or not they claim some form of fiscal conservatism as a political principal, these interest and debt payments alone should cause them to reconsider these wars. It should also make all Americans flinch when they are told, by leaders of both parties and the media, that reform or expansion of domestic public policy programs is too expensive.
All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.
It is not hard to imagine bin Laden smiling at his accomplishments from his oceanic grave.
These AUMFs and the wars have provided tens of thousands of recruits to international terror groups; mass profits to the weapons industry and those that service it; promotions to generals and admirals, with corporate board seats upon retirement; and a perpetual and endless supply of bloody shirts for politicians to wave via an unquestioning and obsequious corporate media to stoke compliant anger and malleable fear. What is hard to imagine, impossible even, is anyone else who has benefited from these wars.
Brutality, Stupidity, Futility
The wars since 9/11 have been brutal, stupid and futile. The majority of Americans, including Afghan and Iraq war veterans, believe the wars to have not been worth fighting. Cravenly, with some notable exceptions by progressives and libertarians, there has not been a concerted effort within Congress to put an end to these wars, gain some control over the American war machine and cripple its ability to deliver mass suffering and death.
With the NDAA stalled in conference committee an opportunity now exists for members of Congress to hear from their constituents that the wars must come to an end. While revoking the AUMFs would by no means wave a magic wand that would end the bloodshed, it would be a crucial first step in forcing the Trump administration, and subsequent administrations, to return to Congress for approval to start another war or to even continue with those wars that are now well into their second decade.
Please call your members of Congress and tell them to ensure their party leadership keeps the amendments to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs in the final version of the NDAA. These authorizations for madness must come to an end.
Counterpunch was kind enough to publish a long essay of mine that deconstructs the myths and lies used to continuously propel the war forward in Afghanistan. The essay utilizes US government, UN and major media sources, as well as many of my experiences, to argue for peace in Afghanistan. I am very happy with the reception this essay has received, most especially honored by its translation into Dari and Pashto by Afghan friends.
MARC STEINER:Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us today.
Seventeen years ago, the war started in Afghanistan. Seems like this is a war with no end. I remember interviewing Hamid Karzai as he was hiding in a cave just crossing the border back into Afghanistan. So many thought it was just, a war that we needed; it was a just war because Americans were revenging the 3000 deaths of 9/11. But doing so completely unaware of why the Taliban was in power in the first place, and how the United States was complicit in their coming to power in many ways, and in creating the likes of, yes, bin Laden.
Now, this week three Americans were killed, more in one day than any time this year. In retaliation, American and allied forces bombed a village they said was Taliban controlled. And later, when they learned that 30 civilians were killed, said they didn’t realize civilians were living there. Among the dead were 16 children. Then a British office was bombed in retaliation, and others were killed, one Brit and five Afghans. The UN reported that the number of civilian casualties from air attacks was higher in the first nine months of this year than any year since 2009.
It’s been a year since the Trump buildup of forces to Afghanistan and more money being spent. So what are we actually fighting for? What Is this war about? When will it end? How do we know where this war is taking us? These are questions many people are to ask themselves. The war’s cost 105,000 Afghan deaths, 7,000 American lives, hundreds of thousands wounded, and even more affected by the war. All this and the Taliban’s still strong enough to be on the verge of seizing power.
To help us wade through the latest news and what lies ahead is Matthew Hoh. A senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, former director of the Afghan Study Group, who was a Marine Corps officer in the Iraq war. And he 2009 he publicly resigned his position in the State Department in Afghanistan in opposition to the escalation of that war then, in 2009. He’s also a member of Veterans for Peace. And Matthew, welcome. Good to have you with us.
MATTHEW HOH:Hi, Marc. Thank you for having me on.
MARC STEINER:So I’m just curious about your reaction to the latest series of events, to start with, what’s at the top of the news. The killing of the American soldiers, the death of American soldiers, the retaliation to the bombing that killed 30 civilians, 16 children; then the next attack that took place at a British office. So I mean, every time we hear this news it seems like greater escalation, more deaths. What was your initial reaction to all this?
MATTHEW HOH:Well it’s the cycle of violence. I mean, this is, this is what’s occurred there in Afghanistan, not since 9/11, but since the 1970s. Something, as you mentioned in your introduction, we’ve been complicit in. I mean, we were–the United States–was funding the Mujahideen in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. I mean, this has been going on for nearly 40 years now. And it is, it is a tragedy. It’s immense suffering. The numbers of casualties are undercounted. When an airstrike occurs like what we saw this week in Helmand and kills 30 people, we are aware of it. But smaller airstrikes, I could tell you this from my experience being there, smaller airstrikes, or airstrikes where the locals don’t alert the media, or the Afghan government doesn’t alert the media, go underreported, or undercounted.
So the idea that this is the most amount of civilians killed by air strikes since ’09 is certainly true. But I would hesitate to believe that that’s the actual number. The number is probably a much greater. And you see with this war a continual pattern, a continual pattern now of talks, a continual pattern of money and foreign troops being put into Afghanistan, a continual escalation of the war by the West and the Afghan government. And, of course, the response by the insurgency, most prominent among them what we call the Taliban, in a complete [an] appropriate response. Again, you’re in a cycle of violence here that, unless it’s broken–and when I mean broken, I mean the funding is cut off, the support is cut off for all parties so that the violence simply can’t occur anymore–it’s just going to continue to go on.
So we’re all kidding ourselves if we’re thinking that these talks, like this five-year plan which is the latest thing that’s coming out the Afghan government, peace will come in five years, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that’s going to make any real difference for the lives of the Afghan people.
MARC STEINER:This is a slight digression. I’m very curious, as you were speaking about this. I mean, so whether you were in Vietnam, whether you were in Afghanistan or Iraq, if you are a soldier fighting or whether you are a civilian working in that war, you get jaundiced pretty quickly about what’s going on around you. So the question is, I’m curious, from your time both as a soldier in Iraq–as a Marine, excuse me. Don’t want to insult you. [crosstalk]
MATTHEW HOH:I don’t, I’m not the guy that does the whole [inaudible]. I can’t do nearly the number of pullups I used to be able to do. I don’t [inaudible] get too concerned if people don’t get the right title.
MARC STEINER:OK, just checking. Just–I know how it is. But given your time in Afghanistan working with the State Department, I’m curious what is the tenor of the men and women working there, working on the, in the American sphere, about what we’re doing, what we’re really accomplishing, or not. And how you have to hide the reality from yourself, almost, to continue the work that you’re doing.
MATTHEW HOH:Yeah. I mean, I can–one thing I can tell you is that it has been nine years since I publicly resigned, and it was on the front page of the Washington Post, the Today Show, and everything. So it wasn’t–my resignation was pretty prominent. And you know, no reason of my own, really Forrest Gumped myself into that. But in the last nine years, the number of negative responses I’ve received from service members who are folks who served in Afghanistan I can count on my one hand. I have received hundreds, if not thousands, of positive responses from men and women who have been with the military, or with our civilian agencies in Afghanistan.
What you’re seeing is within the military, guys get the golden handcuffs. They get locked into their careers. They get locked into the fact that pay and benefits and everything in the military is pretty good right now. They get into the notion that I’m a professional soldier, or a professional Marine, or sailor, or airman. And so I don’t make the policy, I just enforce it. A lot of us would say, hey, that’s … You’re surrendering your soul and your conscience that way. So this zombie-like adherence to what’s occurring there, and looking for excuses, looking for ways to lie to yourself, looking for other metrics to determine whether or not what you’re doing is successful. I took my Marines to Iraq, or I took my Marines to Afghanistan, and only a couple were killed, or none were killed, or only a few were wounded, or–you know, trying to find ways to justify your actions. And that’s certainly what I did. I went three times to war, twice for Iraq and in Afghanistan. And it was–you become numb to that.
But when you get to a position, I think, where you’ve seen the realities of the policymaking, you’ve seen the realities of what we’re doing there, you’ve seen both conflicts–in my case both Iraq and Afghanistan–you see that neither is different. The only thing that matters is that the U.S. is occupying both countries. You’re going to have the same outcomes. In my case, where in Afghanistan I was meeting with the interlocutors, or actually Taliban themselves, and reporting back to the embassy and being told we’re not interested in negotiating, we’re not interested in finding peace, we’re interested in victory, we’re interested in winning, you realize, like, well, I can no longer go home and meet somebody who lost a son or a husband in these wars and tell them it was worthwhile. At the same time too, you see enough dead children, you see enough dead kids, you see enough grieving women in these countries, many of it from our actions, and you start to break, as I was doing.
So part of it is the constant cycling of people into Iraq and Afghanistan, or into Syria, into into these positions, so that they’re coming back out and then going back in, they’re not continuously getting burned out or overwhelmed by it. But it is a question, because–and I think now you start to get into issues of like, why did we get rid of the draft? We have not seen anything like what we saw in Vietnam, where by the early ’70s the U.S. Army, in particular, was completely broken. Where the U.S. Army was experiencing mutinies nearly every week, where units were refusing to fight. By the Army’s own estimate, a quarter of its officers who were killed in Vietnam were killed by their own soldiers. And that’s a conservative estimate. I mean, so we have seen nothing like that in these wars. And that’s, that’s, part of it is why they created this volunteer army, or in many ways like a mercenary army.
MARC STEINER:So–I’m sorry, go ahead. Americans are deeply disconnected from this war. It is very different in Vietnam, or even–especially World War II. People are disconnected because people don’t have a, aren’t in this fight personally at any level, for the most part, in this country.
So the question becomes if we are now in this war that is being escalated by the Trump administration, where more people are being killed then were in the previous years, and in the last years, here, of Obama–not saying it was great under Obama, but nonetheless was of Obama. And I just spoke just the other day with people who had just come back from Helmand province who were saying that, you know, the Taliban is in complete control of the rural areas. You cannot go out at night. Even in the cities you can’t go out at night. So if that’s the case, I mean, what is the endgame here? I mean, how do you get out of this war? How do you stop it? And if the Taliban is really that strong, and you know, for years you’ve seen people some people in the Karzai government and others were trying to negotiate with what they call the good Taliban, to try make some peace, headway. And the Americans didn’t like–kind of opposed them doing that, as well. So in any sense, what is the endgame here? I mean, what–how do you see it?
MATTHEW HOH:The Trump administration has brought about a new era in U.S. foreign policy and U.S. militarism. The Trump administration is different than the Bush and Obama administrations. While both Bush and Obama with the wars in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, were completely wrong-headed, criminal, they honestly thought they could find a way out. They honestly thought that they could bring about some type of political change. They believed that with elections, by building schools and healthcare centers, that we could bring about a change in political structure in these countries that favored the United States.
You have to understand, this is something that goes back decades now. I won’t get into prior to World War II, but certainly we had our imperial ambitions, right, for in this country before World War II. Simply ask the Native Americans, ask Hawaiians, ask Filipinos, et cetera. But after World War II what you see is the United States gets put in this position that is summarized best by George Kennan, who was the American diplomat who came up with the containment strategy of the Soviet Union. So a famed American diplomat. In 1948 he says, you know, he says, the United States now has 50 percent, more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth. We’re only 6 percent the world’s population. That’s a disparity that’s going to prove really hard to keep. But it’s our purpose to keep that disparity, and we have to do whatever it takes.
And from that point, I mean, you can trace when he says that to seeing what we did in Italy and Greece, right into Korea, into Vietnam. The dictatorships we supported in Indonesia, the Philippines, what we did in South America, and especially what we’ve done in the Middle East. Now, the idea of the Bush and Obama administration was that somehow we would do these military actions that would bring about political change in these countries that would make Iraq be the same color on the map that the United States is, right. It’s like this is one big game of Risk, basically. Or Afghanistan was going to be the same color as the United States.
Under the Trump administration, because I really believe of the significant influence that the generals like General Mattis and General Kelly, who are the secretary of defense and White House chief of staff, as well as other officials and other theorists who have gone into this Trump administration, you have a Trump administration that doesn’t see any purpose in trying to have such political change in these countries to create a new political order. What they believe is that you can just subjugate, and that’s the best way to go about it. You’ve tried elections, you’ve tried building healthcare centers, you tried building schools, you’ve tried to win hearts and minds. It didn’t work. So what we do is basically we subjugate those parts of those countries, and in this way keep our proxies in power.
So we’ve seen that. We’ve seen that already, say, like in Iraq, where rather than trying to do any type of political change with the Sunnis, we basically backed Shia armies and Kurdish armies with massive airpower, flattened every Sunni city in Iraq. I mean, the cities along the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys are completely flattened. Tens and tens of thousands killed; tens and tens of thousands are still missing. Millions displaced. And that’s the way they’re going to do it from now on. So basically–yeah.
MARC STEINER:I’m curious about–so what you’re describing here, though, as we conclude, just describing here is a strategy in the Trump administration that in some ways, even though the other strategies have been wrong-headed, flawed, and this war is insanely wrong. But this is–we’re escalating in a dangerous new way, here, in which rather than finding a way to pull out and end it, we’re actually escalating this in a way that is detrimental to Afghanistan and to us.
MATTHEW HOH:Yes, exactly. And this is what you expect from a cycle of violence, right. Cycles of violence continue to escalate. We engage in these wars in the Middle East, we occupy these countries. We tried by using religious sects against one another, by using ethnicities against one another. You’re seeing that right now in Afghanistan, the ethnic splits really occurring, with the Taliban attacking the Hazara minority. And this is this goes back–again, this goes back 40-some odd years. That goes back to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s ideas in the Carter administration to use ethnic and religious differences in the Soviet Union, particularly in Central Asia, to light the Soviet Union afire; to cause them problems, right.
So this is why it’s important that we don’t talk about Afghanistan in the sense that it began on 9/11, because this goes back decades. And what we’re seeing right now is the culmination of this type of imperial militarist policies that have by necessity morphed into–look, if you’re looking to see how Secretary Mattis talks about himself, he speaks of himself as if he’s like a legionnaire. He speaks about defending the republic. He describes the United States as being the apex of civilization. Basically, the idea that they are defending the United States and other parts of the empire, Europe and such, against the barbarians, and that we’re always going to be fighting in these borderlands, basically. And you’re going to look and you see John Kelly, the chief of staff of the White House, he said the same types of things.
And so that’s what you’re seeing with this Trump administration, basically. Subjugate those who won’t fall in line. Keep in power our proxies. Use other proxies. So that’s why you’re, that’s why this year you’ve only seen 12 Americans killed in Afghanistan. We’ve killed more Afghans than any other year since 2009. But we’ve only lost 12 Americans. That keeps it out of the papers, right. That keeps it off of CNN. You know, so let the Afghans kill the Afghans. Use the ethnic differences to really help subjugate one another. Use the Shia and Kurds to keep the Sunnis in line in Iraq. Use the Sunni Saudis and UAE forces to keep control in Yemen. So on and so on.
And so where this goes to–my God. I mean, it leads towards genocide. It leads to displacement, and it leads to further horrors and suffering that, you know, many people have been saying all along will be the consequences of this.
MARC STEINER:So very quickly here, as we conclude now. But I want to go back to where we began and just ask you, when the Americans and allied forces said they did not know there were civilians in this Taliban village, the Taliban-controlled village that they bombed in retaliation for the killing of the Americans, how real is that? I mean, how do you not know that where the Taliban are, civilians–you know, it’s the same stuff in Vietnam.
MATTHEW HOH:Yeah. As a guy–as a guy who did this, as a guy who was part of that stuff, as a guy who had Top Secret clearances, who took part in ground combat, who was involved–I’ve been involved in all kinds of levels. I was in the Secretary of the Navy’s office. Am I allowed to say–it was complete fucking bullshit. Can I say that on The Real News? I mean, like-
MARC STEINER:That describes it succinctly.
MATTHEW HOH:That’s bullshit. How can you not know–that, that’s like bombing a house in the United States and saying you didn’t know that there’d be a family in there. I mean, it’s complete bullshit. It’s complete nonsense. It’s–and what you do–this is what’s interesting. Last year, when the journalist Anand Gopal, and I’m blanking on who his counterpart was, they went into Iraq and they found that the United States was, by a factor of like 37 or 38, miscounting the numbers of civilians that were killed. Basically underreporting civilian deaths in the thousands. And then you look and you see what these Air Force general or Army generals say about it. And what it is, though, is that they basically are able to lie to themselves. And what it comes down to is if all the sources–if your sources in the military, if your intelligence people say they weren’t killed, if your pilots didn’t see them killed, if what the regulations say–if that’s, if that’s what–that’s what’s going. If that’s what it is, then they weren’t killed. That’s how they’re still able to lie to themselves so callously, so cruelly. How they were able to murder these people. And our generals shrug and say, well, now, that’s not the case. Because we didn’t–you know, our people said it didn’t happen. So it’s not the case.
You develop a mentality–it’s a sickness, really. But to be able to have that kind of dissonance with reality … yeah. And these generals who are in charge now, they were junior officers when this war began. So they’ve been brought up on-.
MARC STEINER:On this war.
MATTHEW HOH:Just decades now of lying. And getting away with it. And being promoted because they lie, or lied.
MARC STEINER:That’s an interesting perspective. I never thought about that before.
Matthew Hoh, this has been a pleasure to talk with you. I look forward to doing many more conversations. Thank you for the work, and thank you for standing up.
MATTHEW HOH:Thank you, Marc. Appreciate it.
MARC STEINER:We were talking to Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, and a Marine Corps veteran of the wars that we seem to be stuck in. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us. Take care.
Chris Smiley at The Peace Report has put together an excellent short video where I describe what we did in Iraq to what I saw being done by the Israeli army and police forces to Palestinians. This is the latest documentary that Chris has assembled utilizing footage from our delegation to Palestine last year:
Also here is a longer, 40 minutes, documentary that Chris put together and released a couple of months ago that I don’t believe I have previously shared:
I received a good number of emails, as well as a couple of comments asking for references on last week’s post. I’ll summarize my response here, as well as post an email I sent to the author of an essay in Task and Purpose, a military focused blog, on the relationship of PTSD and combat veterans. That letter, which was more than 600 words and documented, was not even acknowledged, let alone responded to or published…so it goes 😉
As I noted in last week’s post I am dealing with traumatic brain injury (TBI). I also have a diagnosed neuro-cognitive disorder. For the purposes of this blog and the work I try to take part in, this is causing tremendous problems. I suffer from constant headaches, migraines and fatigues, as well as difficulty with concentration, thought and cognitive tasks. Since I published that post last Tuesday, today is the first day, the Tuesday before last, it’s now taken me more than ten days to have had the mental clarity, ability and energy to work on my computer, write and finish this post. I’ve had at least six migraines, lasting from four to sixteen hours, and the constant headaches and fog in my head have kept me just not off my computer, but away from reading books, essays and articles, as well as watching movies, documentaries and tv shows, walking my dogs and spending time with my partner. It should be noted that these cognitive and migraine problems can also be related to PTSD, depression, and alcohol abuse, but my doctors, both in NC and now here in DC, believe it to be rooted in brain injury. Most likely I believe this brain injury comes from the hundreds of explosive blasts I was exposed to during my time in the Marines, both in training and in Iraq, and as a government official in Iraq – live by the sword, die by sword. This type of brain injury may be similar to what football players and boxers experience later in life. I say all of this to explain why I have not responded sooner to requests for more information, as well as why I am not generally traveling, writing, commenting, appearing on media, etc these days.
However, back to the post from last week: When I speak of guilt, I am speaking of the guilt that comes from being ashamed of one’s actions, whether one engaged directly or indirectly in those actions, or whether one was trying to act morally as individual in otherwise immoral circumstances; eg. an individual takes part in the Iraq War, acts in a manner that an outsider would regard as moral, but because he/she has taken part in an event with ill aims and purposes he/she assumes a greater responsibility and role and feels as if he/she has transgressed his/her own morality. This form of guilt is known as moral injury and is becoming well understood to be one of the three signature invisible wounds of war alongside PTSD and TBI.
While different than PTSD and TBI, moral injury often co-exists and overlaps with either one or both. Often moral injury/guilt, PTSD and TBI reinforce and exacerbate one another and where one wound ends another may begin. However, it is important to remember that although the three wounds manifest symptoms in the same manner and are often closely linked, moral injury/guilt, PTSD and TBI are different from one another in their causes and treatment. Simply put PTSD is the body and mind’s reaction to a traumatic or series of traumatic events, TBI is actual damage done to the brain as the result of an external force, whether it be a physical blow or explosion, and moral injury/guilt is a psychological wound caused by the betrayal of an individual’s own values, ethics, morality etc. For further definitions please see here for PTSD, here for TBI and here moral injury/guilt.
With regards to guilt and moral injury, many people recognize that it can take the form of guilt that is widely known as survivor’s guilt. This is the guilt one feels from being left alive or unhurt when others were killed or injured. In veterans survivor’s guilt can be very pronounced as those that are killed or wounded are often friends or subordinates for whom the service member feels a parental like responsibility. I dealt with this in a very awful manner from a helicopter accident that I survived in 2006, but from which four others did not, including a man I consider a friend. In this case, my guilt was not because I solely survived and they died, but because I did not save them. This aspect, of not doing more to help or save others, is also seen often in veterans, as young men and women are recruited into the military and then conditioned to see themselves as heroes in the waiting.
There is another aspect of guilt and moral injury that comes with combat veterans and this is the guilt that comes from taking part in killing. Studies tell us the guilt that comes from this killing can come from either directly or indirectly taking part in the killing, e.g. you don’t have to have been the one who pulled the trigger, and that this guilt can come from not just the killing of civilians and innocents, but also from killing the “enemy”. This guilt over killing the enemy is particularly understandable if the veteran recognizes the enemy as human and as someone who is simply fighting occupation, ie. acting justly, such as the Afghans, Iraqis and Vietnamese fighting against occupation. In this enemy they recognize actions they would do themselves if the situation was reversed. For example, I used to say of the 153 Marines and Sailors I commanded in Iraq in 2006, that if they were young sunni males living in Anbar Province, 51 would be fighting us, 51 would be in Abu Ghraib and 51 would be dead. It is not a very long or difficult path for many veterans to reach this empathy for the enemy, particularly once they leave the bubble and cocoon of group-think that dominates military life and they are able to freely and independently examine both the micro and macro aspects of the war in which they took part.
In the video I shared last week, when I spoke of veterans killing themselves from guilt, I was referring to this guilt or moral injury: that of taking part in something criminal, unjust, and wrong and/or of having done something that violated spiritual, religious, professional or self-held values, principles, beliefs, etc. See the video I posted above for description of how the US Armed Forces mentally condition young men and women to see themselves as heroes and then what happens when they realize they are more a pawn or villain than a hero. For many this is the crux of moral injury and it is a soul crushing and existential crisis that I believe leads to a great many suicides.
In my case, my personal foundation, my very essence and being was ripped from me; to say my world was turned upside down is not just a minimalist description, but a trite one, as the experience, lasting years and managed now because of the great help of psychologists at the VA Medical Center in Durham, reached such depths as are only encountered in the most intense spiritual or awakened moments. Coupled with traumatic brain injury, depression, PTSD and alcohol abuse, it is easy to understand how with no ability to make amends and the constant hero worship of the American public this guilt could only be assuaged with thoughts of suicide. As my life crumbled and I believed in nothing, I was already an atheist, believing neither in the gods of Abraham or deism, despair and despondency became exaggerated and resounded in my head and soul with every little failure and misstep. Alcohol self medicated me for awhile, but the only escape from the sheer distress at the very base of my being was to end it.
Guilt driving someone to suicide should not be a striking idea, it is common in the literature and religion that we are first introduced to as children and teenagers: think of Judas in the Gospels or Lady Macbeth shouting: “Out, out damn spot!”. Guilt, however, has not been something men and women returning home from war have traditionally been screened for or asked about, more than likely I believe as any guilt associated and announced with the wars of the United States is politically and patriotically unacceptable (in that spirit RootsAction and myself received several angry and righteous emails denouncing the linking of suicide in veterans to feeling guilty about what they took part in during the war or killing the enemy).
As mentioned above, I will paste a letter I sent to the military blog Task and Purpose, but first I would like to list a number of references I use to support my conclusions that it is guilt that is the chief driver of suicides in combat veterans. Additionally, I have a pdf that contains links and abstracts to 25 separate studies that exam the relationship of guilt/moral injury, TBI, and PTSD to suicide in veterans. Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a pdf copy of that.
For information on suicide rates of veterans with PTSD compared to other mental health populations, please see Figure 3, page 9 in the report.
For information on suicide rates for veterans, broken out by age group and sex and compared to the US population, see Table 4, page 18
For information on suicide rate of Iraq and Afghan war veterans see Table 5, page 19 and Figure 22, page 33. By comparing these tables and utilizing the information available from the CDC in figure 2 of its suicide data on the general US population, you’ll see for example that the youngest male veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars have suicide rates nearly 6 times that of other young men their age. By looking at other tables and figures in the suicide report and comparing them to the rate of civilian suicides you’ll note that veterans in the age groups where the United States was in major and lengthy wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan) have significantly higher rates of suicide than non-veterans. During periods of time when the United States was not in these large wars veteran suicide rates are on par or below civilian suicide rates.
Of course, being in war doesn’t mean that a service member sees combat or takes part in the killing experience that may lead him/her to later take their own life. However, there have been a number of studies that have shown that veterans who have been in combat have a higher rate of suicide than veterans who have also deployed to war but not seen combat (and incidentally, despite common perception, Iraq and Afghan veterans have been more likely to be in combat than veterans of any previous war, see my letter below to Task and Purpose).
The linking of combat and suicide has also been reported through journalism, such as this NY Times story which tracked a battalion of infantry Marines after their return home and to civilian life after their time in Afghanistan. At the time of the reporting, this unit of approximately 1,000 men who had been engaged in heavy fighting in Helmand Province, had a suicide rate 14 times higher than their civilian male counter-parts. As I know Marines who were in this unit, nothing makes me suspect that the rate of suicide has lessened for these men. Another news story detailed how WWII veterans kill themselves at 4 times the rate of non-veterans of the same age, which demolishes the myth that such a problem with mental health and suicidality didn’t exist for previous generations of war veterans or goes away with time and age. From the Washington Post linked in the previous sentence:
The reality was that of the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during World War II, fewer than half saw combat. Of those who did, more than 1 million were discharged for combat-related neuroses, according to military statistics. In the summer of 1945, Newsweek reported that “10,000 returning veterans per month . . . develop some kind of psychoneurotic disorder. Last year there were more than 300,000 of them — and with fewer than 3,000 American psychiatrists and only 30 VA neuropsychiatric hospitals to attend to their painful needs.”
One of those hospitals was the subject of John Huston’s 1946 documentary, “Let There Be Light,” which said that “20% of all battle casualties in the American Army during World War II were of a neuropsychiatric nature.” The film followed the treatment, mostly with talk therapy, drugs and hypnosis, of “men who tremble, men who cannot sleep, men with pains that are no less real because they are of a mental origin.” Huston’s movie was confiscated by the Army just minutes before its premiere in 1946 and was not allowed to be shown in public until 1981. The government rationale at the time was protecting the privacy of the soldiers depicted, though Huston maintained all had signed waivers..
“Most of the World War II men that I worked with came to me in their 70s or 80s, after retirement or the death of a spouse,” said Joan Cook, a professor of psychiatry at Yale and a PTSD researcher for Veterans Affairs. “Their symptoms seemed to be increasing, and those events seemed to act as a floodgate.”
For so many veterans, that was when they finally learned they were not crazy or weak. “Pretty much to a person, for them, learning about PTSD and understanding that people were researching it in World War II veterans was a real relief,” Schnurr said. “Many people felt isolated and crazy, and they thought it was just them. And they didn’t talk about it.”
“Across all suicide-related outcomes (i.e., suicide ideation, suicide attempt, and death by suicide), the relation of specific combat exposure with suicide-related out- comes was twice as large (r = .12) as the relation of general deployment across all suicide-related outcomes” and
“the difference between the relation of combat-specific experience and general deployment history with suicide- related outcomes was significant”.
The report goes on to say that being involved in combat increases the likelihood of suicide in veterans by 43%.
You can also watch a short video summarizing this report here.
In the video from RootsAction I mention that as early as 1991 researchers had determined combat related guilt to be the most significant predictor of suicide in Vietnam veterans. That study can be found here. Its conclusion reads: “In this study, PTSD among Vietnam combat veterans emerged as a psychiatric disorder with considerable risk for suicide, and intensive combat-related guilt was found to be the most significant explanatory factor. These findings point to the need for greater clinical attention to the role of guilt in the evaluation and treatment of suicidal veterans with PTSD.”
Take note that the current checklist for screening veterans at the VA does not include specific questions about or references to guilt and a 2012 VA study noted:“Killing experiences are NOT routinely examined when assessing suicide risk. Our findings have important implications for conducting suicide risk assessments in veterans of war.” (emphasis mine)
As mentioned above I have links, citations and abstracts for 25 studies I have reviewed that are available online, primarily through NIH, that explore the connection of suicide, combat, guilt, PTSD and TBI. As it it 12 pages long I will not paste it here, but if you would like a PDF, please let me know by comment or by email (email@example.com).
As I noted in my original post last week, there is also a very real connection between TBI and suicides, and with so many Iraq and Afghan veterans living now with TBI many of the suicides that are occurring would likely be connected to TBI. More information on TBI and veterans is found in the letter below.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.
Peace to you.
Below is a letter I sent to the military blog Task and Purpose, which went unacknowledged, regarding many of the common misperceptions of PTSD and veterans.
From: Matthew Hoh Date: February 5, 2018 at 2:28:11 PM EST To: james…. Subject:Your article on PTSD
Thank you for your recent article on PTSD and the effects of transition on veterans. I believe the broad outlines of the study and its conclusions are correct. It reminds me of what I heard said about American soldiers returning from WWI: “how are you going to keep them on the farm when they have seen Paris?” There are a few things that the study’s authors, however, did not take into account and that can lead to misunderstanding about veterans by the public, particular the effects of combat.
First, the study’s authors do not differentiate between the veteran population as a whole, those who deployed, and those who saw combat. This is crucial for understanding the stresses and challenges veterans face and why they face them. For example, a meta-study from the National Center for PTSD by Brett Litz and William Schlenger, examined 14 published PTSD studies of Afghan and Iraq war veterans, and found that troops who had seen combat had PTSD rates of 10-18% but for troops that had not seen combat the rate was only 1.5%. An important differentiation.
The authors also do not make the correlation or connection to the symptoms that they identify in veterans due to transition stress to the same symptoms that occur in unemployed civilians. There is a vast body of literature on unemployment related symptoms that has come out of the Great Recession, particularly in men. These symptoms include depression, anger, listlessness/apathy, mood impairment, sexual dysfunction, relationship problems and other issues that are similar to the symptoms that veterans experience upon separating from the military.
Secondly, the authors do not discuss the role of TBI in OIF/OEF veterans. Rates of TBI among all OIF/OEF era veterans range from 10-20% according to the VA. The Rand Corporation and the Congressional
Research Service put the rate as high as 23%. So, more OIF/OEF veterans suffer from TBI than PTSD, and as you most likely know, TBI can have a latent development and is often under reported (as is PTSD).
“The soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are having a very unique experience both because they have very good body armor now and because of the way in which insurgents use a lot of explosives. The soldiers are exposed to a lot of explosions, so they get hit over and over again, but they’re protected from all but the worst cases of secondary and tertiary effects. Whereas had it been the Vietnam War, for example, they [the soldiers] would have been much more grievously injured and would have been evacuated.”
And the study’s co-author said this:
“Probably the only war that is comparable to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is World War I, the trench and artillery warfare. The term “shell shock” came from that war and that really refers to the effects of these post-concussive symptoms.
In the group of veteran participants in this study, the average number of blast exposures that were severe enough to cause acute symptoms consistent with the diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury was 20. It was more common to have been exposed to between 50 to 100 blasts than to have a single one.”
That leads to my third point, which I think would make an excellent article for you. The notion as advanced terribly by Sebastian Junger that these wars have been safer is demonstrably false and there is no evidence to demonstrate such, rather OIF/OEF (not just combat arms but all veterans) have had higher exposure rates to combat, violence, death and injury than any previous generation of veterans. Looking at a broad range of studies and surveys we see that OIF and OEF veterans experience combat at rates of 50% or higher, again a higher rate than any previous generation of American veterans.
I have pasted below summaries I have written from various studies on OIF/OEF combat exposure, please note that some of the studies, such as the last study I reference, include veterans who did not deploy, so the rate of combat exposure is much higher than stated for deployed veterans:
Studies and surveys have shown that veterans from OIF and OEF have experienced greater or equal rates of combat/trauma exposure of veterans of other wars. For example, the 2010 National Veterans Survey reported that the overall veteran population has experienced combat at a rate of 34%. However, among veterans who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq 63% of veterans had combat exposure. For veterans who went to war zones prior to WWII the rate was 55.4%, for those who went to war zones during WWII it was 44.9%, in Korea it was 26%, in Vietnam it was 44% and in the Gulf War it was 41%. That information comes from a study done by Ryan Edwards of Queens College, City University of New York in 2014.
Additional sources debunking Junger’s and others unsupported and undocumented notion that only 10% of American troops saw combat or experienced danger/trauma in Afghanistan and Iraq, include:
–a 2004 study by Walter Reed Army Institute of Research that found 77-87% of American troops discharged their weapons in Iraq and more than 90% reported coming under small arms fire
–a 2009 study from the Rand Corporation, by the same authors from aRand study that Junger cites in his book, reports that only 10-15% of Afghan and Iraq veterans report no combat trauma experienced at all during deployment and close to 75% report multiple exposures to combat trauma
–a 2011 study from the National Center for Veterans’ Studies at the University of Utah reported 58-60% of Afghan and Iraq veterans had experienced combat
–a 2014 study published by the British Journal of Psychiatry found that contrary to Junger’s claims on p87 of his book that British troops had half the rate of PTSD than the American troops that “were in combat with them”, both British and American troops that experienced comparable levels of combat exposure had comparable rates of PTSD. The authors of the 2004 Walter Reed report referenced above also shared this finding. In the 2014 study of the American veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq nearly 70% reported receiving small arms fire; 85% experienced artillery, rocket or mortar fire; 43% handled human remains; 62% experienced dead/injured US forces; 24% had a friend injured near them; 28% gave aid to the wounded; 42% experienced sniper fire; 50% cleared and searched buildings; 51% experienced hostile civilians; and 45% reported a threatening situation to which they could not respond
–a 2014 survey of studies by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that among veterans and service-members the greatest predictors of PTSD were high combat exposure rates and sexual abuse as an adult, and not events that occurred prior to service in the military as is often alleged. This is confirmed by many other studies, including a study by the VA from 1991 that found the best predictor of suicide in Vietnam veterans was combat related guilt.
–a 2016 study by Texas Tech University of student service–members and veterans found that 44% of those surveyed had experienced combat. This study included veterans and active duty/reserve service members, both those that deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and those that did not.
Suicide is another factor the authors do not address. According to the VA, among the youngest male veterans of OIF/OEF, ages 18-29, the suicide rate is almost 6x higher for them than for their civilian male peers. For veterans in their 30s it is 3-4x higher. Among combat units that have been tracked the suicide rate is as high as 14x that of their civilian peers. This high and exaggerated rate of suicide holds true for all generations of American veterans who served during a war era. WWII veterans have a rate 4x higher than their non veteran peers. The link between combat and suicide is undeniable and has been well documented (a meta-study by the National Center for Veterans Studies in 2015 found a significant and clear link between combat and suicide in 21 of 22 studies examined). For veterans who did not serve in a war era, the rate of suicide is comparable or less than the civilian peer population. Veteran suicide is very troubling and not something to be disregarded when talking about veterans issues, particularly mental health.
One final note, and thank you for indulging this long correspondence, but the source in the study you write about, that cites less than a 10% PTSD rate in veterans comes from a survey of 700 Danish soldiers. The Danes faced very hard fighting in Helmand, at one point I believe they had the most casualties per capita of the nations in ISAF (they had one deployed battalion on infantry), but I think it is disingenuous and unwise of the study’s authors to use a study of Danish troops, to make a broad statement about American veterans.
For your reference, I was a Marine combat engineer officer for ten years. I have PTSD, TBI and neuro-cognitive disorder diagnosis from my time at war.
Let me know if you’d like more information. Again, thank you for indulging this long email (I thought this a better format than leaving a comment), and please consider writing an article on the documented level of combat in OIF and OEF veterans to dispel the myth that only 10% see combat, that these wars were safe, OIF/OEF vets had it easy, etc.
It’s been almost five months since I’ve written anything, and this post is not going to contain much of my writing, but rather sharing with you a note RootsAction sent out to its vast membership containing a clip of me in a talk I gave in London at the end of February:
It should be noted that traumatic brain injury, which in some studies has been found to be present in more than 20% of Afghan and Iraq veterans, and from which I suffer from, also has a very real and significant link to suicide in veterans.
The full video of the talk in London is found below. That talk, titled: “War, Journalism and Whistleblowers — 15 years after Katharine Gun’s Truth Telling on the Verge of the Iraq War”, included Katharine Gun, Thomas Drake, Jesselyn Radack, Silkie Carlo, Norman Solomon and Duncan Campbell, all of whom are really incredible and brave people that I look up to and admire.
I would like to share other parts of that talk later, as we as a panel were questioned by two Iraqi women during the Q&A. Their questions, testimony and witness led to a very emotional and powerful session for many of us.
A couple of days later Tom, Jess and I participated in a panel in Graz, Austria, at the 2018 Elevate Festival. We were joined by Diana Bartelo, Cian Westmoreland and Lisa Ling, as well as by video by Dan Ellsberg.
Below is the note that RootsAction sent out. I hope to begin writing again in the near future. I appreciate all of you following this blog and my work. Peace.
In this video clip from a recent RootsAction Education Fund event, U.S. veteran and whistleblower Matthew Hoh shatters the popular myth that post-traumatic stress disorder is behind the high suicide rates for U.S. veterans. He notes that PTSD has the lowest connection to suicide of any mental health problem, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA).
Well, then what’s causing so many people so frequently thanked for their “service” to kill themselves?
The answer turns out not to be a secret, but something that most people and most organizations would rather not mention.
Since 1990, Hoh tells us, the VA has known that guilt over participation in killing human beings is the best predictor of suicide. Veterans are killing themselves because they feel guilty for what they’ve done.
Ssshhh! You shouldn’t say that! It’s anti-veterans!
Really? Does it help current veterans or impede the production of more veterans to hush up the problems they face? Haven’t we learned that the first step in addressing a problem is identifying it?
Hoh is himself a veteran who has struggled with a wide array of issues, including guilt, PTSD, brain injury, and substance abuse. He has been certified by North Carolina as a Peer Support Specialist for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder. He knows of what he speaks. His interest is in helping other veterans. In the video he cites the studies that back up his statements.
Matthew Hoh had nearly 12 years of experience with America’s wars overseas with the United States Marine Corps, Department of Defense and State Department. In 2009, Hoh resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan with the State Department over the American escalation of the war and, in 2010, he was named the Ridenhour Prize Recipient for Truth Telling.
Hoh has been a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy since 2010. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Public Accuracy, an Advisory Board Member for ExposeFacts, North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture, Veterans For Peace, and World BEYOND War, and he is an Associate Member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
The event from which this video is taken marked 15 years since the March 2, 2003, story provided by whistleblower Katharine Gun revealed that the United States and Great Britain were working together to spy on other nations’ delegations to the United Nations as part of an effort to coerce them into voting for a war on Iraq.
We cannot create such events or provide support for such whistleblowers if you don’t help. Please donate!
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You are a member of the Center for International Policy. Can you tell us about the missions of this organization and what is its impact on American politics?
Matthew Hoh: The Center for International Policy (CIP) is a think tank located in Washington, DC that was established in the late 1970s chiefly to oppose US military policies in Central America. We still maintain that original purpose, of opposing US militarism, but we also work on issues involving South America, the Middle East, Central Asia and East Asia. We also focus quite a bit on US military spending and the militarism that encompasses all aspects of American policy, culture and society. We are proud to say that our mission is to “advance a sustainable, just and peaceful world.”
One of the things that set CIP apart from most of the other think tanks in Washington, DC and the rest of the United States is that we truly are non-partisan, in that we are not affiliated with any political party. Additionally, most of the money we raise and we operate on comes not from corporations, but rather from individuals and foundations who believe in our mission of resisting American militarism and supporting human rights.
We work with members of Congress on a consistent basis, as well as appear in the media in order to have an effect on American policy. Many of our members also conduct research on issues of militarism, human rights and social justice in order to help educate and inform the public and lawmakers.
You were also senior official at the State Department as Director of the Study Group on Afghanistan and you provided reports that went directly to the Secretary of State of the United States. As an expert, how do you see the evolution of the political process in Afghanistan?
The Afghanistan Study Group was part of CIP and not a part of the State Department. I was, however, a State Department official stationed in Afghanistan in 2009.
Unfortunately, I have not seen any positive evolution or change in the political system or process in Afghanistan since 2009. What we have seen are three national elections that have been ruled to be grossly illegitimate and fraudulent by outside observers, but have been validated and supported by the American government through the presence of tens of thousands of soldiers and the spending of tens of billions of dollars.
We have seen the creation of extra-constitutional positions in the government, such as the Chief Executive Officer position occupied by Abdullah Abdullah, which was done at the behest of the American government. Additionally, bargains and compromises that were brokered by the American government in an attempt to create more a more inclusive government, reduce corruption and heal fractures among the political bloc that once supported Hamid Karzai and the American presence has failed to achieve those things.Corruption is still the dominant feature of the Afghan government, and the political support for the rule of Kabul has deteriorated and splintered by the corruption and the machinations of the Karzai and now Ghani governments.
Most importantly, the political process, by being so corrupt, by seating successive governments that won by fraud and by disenfranchising various political communities, has alienated many, many Afghans, and not just those Pashtuns who ally themselves with the Taliban, from the government in Kabul. This has allowed for greater support for militia commanders and warlords outside of Kabul, as well as the Taliban, and has allowed the war to progress with no real hopes for reconciliation, negotiations or a cease fire any where in the near future. (By supporting and growing a kleptocracy, a system of have and have nots, that system has by its nature and necessity produced more people out of the system than people in the system every year. This causes resentment, grievances and a desire to share in the spoils and gifts of American occupation that leads to greater violence, more political chaos and a dearth of hope for the future).
You have been the highest official to resign from your duties at the State Department. Can you explain to us what was the disagreement that led you to resign?
I had been twice to Iraq prior to my time in Afghanistan, and I had been working on issues of the wars since 2002 when I was in the Pentagon as a Marine Corps officer. I could no longer go along with the killing of the war, and the lies that propped up that killing. I saw in the Afghan government the worst excesses that I had seen in the Iraqi government and I knew the Afghan government in Kabul had no real or true interest in coming to a peace with the Taliban and those in the Afghan insurgency.
I also saw that Barack Obama’s administration cared only for the political value of Afghanistan in terms of American politics and had no real interest in the well being of the Afghan people. I also knew the amount of money that American corporations were making off of the war and how that influenced American policy and the escalation of the war. Finally, I also knew that American generals and civilians tasked with overseeing the war were more interested in preserving American empire, as well as their own careers and legacies, than achieving peace or ending the suffering of the Afghan people.
In addition to being a diplomat, you were a soldier and served in Iraq as a commander in the Marine Corps. In your opinion, was the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 justified?
No, the war in Iraq was not justified. There were many reasons for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, but none of them were morally valid, internationally legal or had to do with the safety and security of the American people, or the well being of the Iraqi people. The reasons were many and included of course President Bush’s desire to win a war to win reelection in the United States in 2004, people in the government and foreign policy community who believed in removing Saddam Hussein to “democratize and Americanize” the Middle East for reasons of American Empire and hegemony, the influence of Israeli policy and thought on American policy, Iraq’s large and vast oil reserves, and the influence of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Nations.
In your opinion, should the Bush administration be accountable in particular to a court for the crimes it committed in Iraq?
Yes. Without elaboration, war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Bush Administrationand those in charge should be held responsible. It is as simple as that.
You are a privileged witness as a diplomat and as a superior officer of the war in Iraq. You describe what happened during the intervention in Iraq as a vast racket.Can you tell us why?
The amounts of money that were made on the Iraq war by American corporations and individuals were enormous. In terms of direct spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (the two are inseparable in many ways including in how the financing and the money making occurred), the direct costs of the wars are nearly $1.8 trillion dollars. Now these are just direct costs. Adding indirect costs of the war, such as healthcare for veterans and interest payments on debt, we see that the long term costs of the war may reach $6 trillion dollars. Again, this is just for the wars directly. At the same time the budget for the Pentagon this coming year will be $700 billion, which is 10 times more than Russia and 3 times more than China spend on their militaries, and this $700 billion does not include the money we spend on our intelligence agencies, healthcare for veterans, homeland security or interest payments for past defense and war debt (next year the United States will spend about $115 billion just on interest and debt payments for past wars and military spending).
This money primarily goes to American corporations that then put money into funding politicians in Congress, as well as to funding think tanks and universities that help to promote the policies that foster and sustain America’s wars in the Muslim world and America’s massive military budget. This funding process is cyclical and the instability and violence that American militarism, intervention and occupation fosters and sustains is utilized as continued justification by American politicians and generals for more military spending.
On a another level, what I witnessed by my presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the mass amounts of money that are injected into these war zones fuel the corruption and that the massive amounts of money being received by those who are loyal or collaborating with the American forces provides no incentive for the Afghans or Iraqis working with the Americans to seek peace, reconciliation or a cease fire with their adversaries. So long as the Americans are keeping them in power and making them rich, there is no sense in pursuing an end to the conflict, an end to the American occupation/presence/influence or to seek reconciliation.
You are a member of the Board of Directors for Council for a Livable World and an Advisory Board Member for Expose Facts. Can you explain to our readership what the missions of these organizations are?
I’m sorry, but you must have seen an older biography for me, as I am no longer with the Council for a Livable World.
I am, however, an advisory board member for Veterans For Peace, Expose Facts, World Beyond War and the North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture. I am also an associate member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. All of these organizations seek to encourage peace and an end to America’s wars overseas as well as an end to the wars that we have in the United States, especially the oppression of people of color in the US.
Veterans For Peace is an international organization dedicated to informing people about the true costs and realities of war.
Expose Facts is an organization comprised of many former government officials who encourage whistleblowing and members of government, the military and corporations who are witness to wrongdoing to come forward and report this wrongdoing to the public.
World Beyond War is an international organization devoted to restructure how our world is shaped and to get people to believe and understand that a peaceful world is possible.
North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture is the only organization of its kind in the US. It is the only organization that is devoted wholly to researching, documenting and publicizing the role of the state of North Carolina in the American torture practices under President Bush. The desire is to hold people accountable for the torture that was conducted.
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) is an organization of former government and military members who were either intelligence officers or utilized intelligence in their careers (associate members). The purpose of VIPS is to provide alternative recommendations and views to the President of the United States, and to the media, that he is not getting from the American intelligence services.
While whistleblowers inform public opinion on various issues by taking major risks, don’t you think it is more than necessary to launch initiatives or even create a global specific program to protect whistleblowers?
Yes, one of the things I would like to see created is a fund to help whistleblowers pay for the very high costs that they incur by becoming whistleblowers. Whistleblowers lose their jobs, have expensive legal fees and may go for years without having the money necessary to support their families and pay their bills. This is a tactic used by the government and corporations to frighten people into not becoming whistleblowers. I would like to see a fund started that would help whistleblowers pay for these expenses and not be forced into bankruptcy and insolvency because they followed their consciences and reported wrongdoing.
You are also a man committed to the cause of the Palestinian people; you participated in a trip to Palestine with Veteran for Peace to see the conditions in which the Palestinians live. Can you tell us about this action?
This was a very important trip for me as spending 18 days with the people of Palestine and the popular resistance to the Israeli occupation was extremely moving and powerful. You can read essays and books or watch documentaries and films about the suffering of the Palestinian people, but until you are with them, you don’t really understand the horror and the tragedy of the Israeli occupation. As an American it was very important for me to go and stand in solidarity with my Palestinian brothers and sisters particularly as my country is often the sole supporter of Israel and gives the Israeli military nearly $11 million dollars a day in assistance.
The United States is an unconditional supporter of Israel. How do you explain that?
The main reason for this is because of the perverted and corrupted political system in the United States that allows money to influence politics so greatly. The United States would not be such an unconditional supporter of Israel if not for the influence of money provided to American politicians, primarily through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) but also through other sources. Without this overwhelming purchasing of politicians I don’t believe Israel would receive the support it does from the United States and I don’t think that Israel would be able to continue its occupation of the Palestinian people and the crimes against them.
In your opinion, what is the contribution of veterans like you, especially through Veteran for Peace, to support the resistance to US imperialism around the world?
The most important things American veterans can do is to speak openly and plainly about what they saw during their time in the military, what they took part in the wars, and what they truly believe the purposes of the wars and the American military is. It is hard in America for people to speak against the military and the wars, because we have a culture that celebrates war, violence and the military, but veterans must find the courage to do so because through their witness and testimony people can understand the realities and the truths of America’s wars, empire and imperialism.
It is important too for American veterans to stand in solidarity with those resistance movements both outside the United States and internal to the United States that are fighting against American militarism, occupation and intervention. This includes standing against client governments of the United States like Israel, South Korea and Japan. It is also necessary for veterans to stand with the oppressed communities of the United States; with Native Americans, Latino Americans and Black Americans. All of the oppressed people within the United States are victims of America’s militarism and continue to be oppressed by a system that provides overwhelming economic, civic and societal benefits to the wealthy white classes while continuing to punish people of color through mass incarceration, police violence, deportation, economic disadvantage, inadequate health care, poorer education, etc. Such treatment of people of color would not have been possible in the past without the American military and the effects of militarism on the white people of the United States, and now with militarized police remains essential in continuing the oppression. Much of this oppression finds its praxis and its implementation through the culture of violence in the United States that is a direct consequence of the militarism that so many American embrace. I believe militarism to be one of the true religions of the United States. This militarism leads to this culture of violence which accepts violence based solutions as not the only option, but the necessary option. It is through such policies of violence based solutions that America has the largest prison population in the world, epidemics of police violence, mass deportations of non-white people, etc.
How do you evaluate the alternative media experience? Don’t you think that in order to counter imperialist manipulation and propaganda, we need to rely on highly engaged and highly effective alternative media to win the information battle that is strategic?
Yes, I could not agree with you more. When I first started speaking about the war I was allowed onto and into main stream media. I appeared on the main cable news networks and was published in major newspapers, but over the last decade voices of dissent, particularly those who are against war and imperialism have been dramatically marginalized from the main stream, or corporate owned press. In 2014, when I was arguing against a renewed American presence in Iraq, I was only able to appear on one cable news network and none of the major newspapers sought my opinion. The same occurred for many of my colleagues. Where we were successful in appearing on cable television news, CNN in my case, or being printed in major news papers and media outlets, we were outnumbered 5, 10 or 15 to one in terms of the voices and opinions that were pro-war. For example, when I appeared on CNN during that time, I was introduced as “the lone dove in a field of wolves” by the anchor (Brooke Baldwin). This situation, this echo chamber, of pro-war, pro-imperialism and pro-violence voices has only solidified and I know only a couple of people who have been able to get onto the major networks to argue against war and then they are outnumbered considerably and often drowned out by pro-war and pro-empire voices.
Without the alternative media voices like mine would have no outlet. I think however that the success of the alternative media has caused the mainstream media to tighten and limit its allowance of dissent as fear of dissent against the wars having an effect on the population and policy has caused the intersection of the military/government, the media and corporations to more rigidly control the messages being allowed. I think this really accelerated in 2013 when public opinion and public action towards Congress kept the Obama Administration from launching a war against the government of Syria. The nexus of the top echelons of the military/government, the media and the corporations is quite real and reinforcing, and the consequences of this have been the limitation and, in some cases, elimination of dissent from the corporate owned media.
What do you think of the fact that the Trump administration is going back on the Iranian nuclear deal and what is your opinion on the escalation between the United States and North Korea? Does US imperialism still need an enemy to exist, namely the USSR, Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, etc.?
I think that Trump going back on the nuclear deal with Iran was bound to happen. Trump is following the lead of the foreign policy establishment in the United States which is first and foremost committed to American hegemony and dominance. The preservation of the American Empire is the mission of most foreign policy experts in the United States, whether they are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Cooperation between nations, demilitarization and world wide respect for human rights is hardly ever a concern for the American foreign policy establishment. This is why we see the same bellicosity to North Korea, and let’s not forget both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have threatened to destroy North Korea themselves.
I think not just for imperialism, but for our culture of militarism, violence and our nationalist concept of American Exceptionalism we must have an enemy. We view ourselves as Good, so there must be a Bad or an Evil. American Exceptionalism and the violence that comes with it, believed to be redemptive and justice-based, is a Manichean, binary framework, so Americans must have an adversary or an enemy. So sad and so tragic that so many have suffered, died and been made homeless all around the world, over the decades for such an absurd, ignorant, simplistic and false belief.
You received the Ridenhour Prize for Truth Telling in 2010. What can you tell us about this award?
It was a very great honor. The prizes are awarded in the name of Ron Ridenhour, the soldier who helped alert people to the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War. It is and has been very humbling to be included in such a prestigious group of men and women who have followed their consciences, looked past the risk and did what was right.